US-India nuclear deal signals new regional arms race

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Non-proliferation and a vocal opponent of the recently approved US-India nuclear deal, held President Bush responsible for undermining international arms control efforts. “By destroying the nuclear rules for India, President Bush has weakened the rules for everyone else. Pakistan and China will be the first, but almost certainly not the last, to take advantage of this weakened system,” Markey said in reaction to reports that Islamabad will seek nuclear technology from Beijing.

Markey’s statement said Bush’s decision to push the deal in the waning days of his administration is “unwise” and “undoing decades of vital arms control policy.” The deal could “lead to an arms race in South Asia,” he warned. “Today’s announcement of new nuclear reactors in Pakistan to be built with China’s help will ensure that this failed administration will indeed leave behind a distinct legacy, though not the kind that arms control experts and historians will judge favorably.” (Times of India, Oct. 19)

On Oct. 6, days after India finalized near-simultaneous nuclear deals with the US and France, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called for a similar nuclear deal with Washington. There was no response from Washington. On Oct. 18, Islamabad announced that China had agreed to help build two more nuclear power plants in Pakistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi unveiled the deal after President Asif Ali Zardari returned from a four-day state visit to China, which Qureshi said had been “very significant.” (AFP, Oct. 18; Radio Australia, Oct. 6)

President Nicolas Sarkozy and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed their agreement in Paris Sept. 30, allowing French companies to sell nuclear technology to Delhi. The US Senate approved the US-India deal (already voted up by the House) the following day. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee signed the deal in Washington Oct. 11. (Radio Australia, Oct. 11; NYT, Oct. 2; Bloomberg, Sept. 30)

France has sought similar deals recently with Japan and the North African states. Sarkozy likely views the deals as simple commerce, and a reassertion of French global corporate reach—despite the recent string of accidents at France’s own nuclear power plants. The White House, on the other hand, is likely more motivated by geo-strategic concerns.

Despite the facade that all this technology is for civilian purposes, India continues to build and test bigger and bigger nuclear-capable missiles. And, with requisite assurances to Washington and the UN that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not in danger of falling into jihadi hands, Islamabad continues plutonium production. The Bush administration—with its habitual counter-productive paranoia—has evidently decided that grooming India as a proxy to maintain a balance of terror on the Subcontinent is the best reaction to the prospect of a nuclear-armed Taliban state in Pakistan. As if this policy will not fuel Pakistani fears and jihadist backlash, and only bring that grim eventuality a little closer…

See our last posts on India, Pakistan and nuclear fear.